I’m Coming Out… as a Non-Voter

October 17, 2012

American flag waving at US Capitol Building

My relationship with the federal government has evolved over the thirty years of my time on Earth. From the day I was born until I was fifteen, my involvement was limited to hearing choice bits on the news (remember, no Internet yet) and sending letters to soldiers in Desert Storm. During my high school years, I started to pay attention and realized some of those around me, kids and adults, seemed to be genuinely interested in the results of elections and legislation; nevertheless, being an prideful teenager made me believe I was above all those concerns. I parroted my father’s conservative talking points when it suited me, and considered myself completely apolitical.

This was 2001. Then the world changed. But let’s not dwell on the events of that one day. Everything that’s happened in the last eleven years has completely reshaped politics in this country, polarized it in such a way as if to say: “If you’re not one of us, you’re one of them.” i.e. if you’re not a Democrat, you must be a Republican. If you don’t support the war on terror, you might have ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. If you fund Planned Parenthood, you must be pro-choice and support murder. If you’re a Republican, you must be in favor of never cutting taxes (if you want to get elected, at least).

I’m disappointed.

I don’t know where I stand among other Americans in terms of being informed or holding the views that I do. There are approximately 315 million residents of the United States. About 48% of them are men. ~70% are white. 18% are atheist or fall into other religious affiliations (outside of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu). About 30% fall into the lower middle class. Less than 30% have bachelor’s degrees. If I were to make a liberal (pardon the use) estimate, I’d say based on my religion, income, race, education, and gender, I represent about a third of the American public, at least in terms of these factors. And remember, this isn’t figuring in politics at all. Nor does it consider my background.

I attended the University of Texas at Austin. Though I didn’t realize it at the time of applying (believe it or not), the campus is practically the sole bastion of liberalism in the state. That didn’t concern me, nor did it interest me; I just wanted a good education away from my parents, a chance to live on my own. I was certainly exposed to different ways of thinking, but my father’s talking points stuck in my head; I respected him, and thought he must have had reasons for being a Republican, just as everyone else in my family was. I voted for George W Bush in 2004.

I left the US shortly after graduation and moved to Japan to teach English. For the first time in my life, I was the minority, as an American and a white person. It’s only when one is in that position he starts to reevaluate his place. After all, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” I wasn’t a bigot, but I was certainly ignorant regarding other countries’ views on the US, a point I attempted to rectify… with more travel.

I made friends from Japan, South Africa, England, Russia, Canada, South Korea, Thailand, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and Egypt. I lived in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and the US. I’ve traveled across four continents. And while I don’t think I’m arrogant enough to admit I know everything there is the world has to offer, I do believe I have more perspective than a majority of Americans; only a third of us hold passports. How many of them have lived abroad? How many are willing to reconsider everything they believe when new evidence arises? I’ve still got a scientist’s mentality on that: when someone proves me wrong, it’s just as exciting as when I’m proven right.

Sadly, I don’t see the majority of Americans, right or left, willing to consider this way of thinking. Most of the time, debates consist of mindless bickering, yelling at the other side as if they’re too stupid to understand the “truth”. And while I personally believe a large part of this is concentrated on the right, it’s certainly not limited to it. Hopefully conservatives reading this haven’t simply written me off after reading that sentence.

Let’s go back to demographics. If I represent about a third of Americans, what about those in my family? My father is university educated, white, male, Christian, lower middle class, and pretty well traveled. Yet politically, we don’t see eye to eye on much of anything. Growing up, I was taught to not claim to know everything there is (every teenager does at some point); although I certainly just ignored him at the time, he was right. And now, he seems to be practicing the opposite, listening to only one side and demonizing the other.

We just see the world differently. I’m not talking about politics or any topical issues. You could have someone with Rush Limbaugh’s personality voicing all my opinions on healthcare, same-sex marriage, abortion, and everything else controversial in today’s world, and I still probably wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with someone like that. Why?

He’s angry, about almost everything. I’m not.

In discussions between friends and family, I happen to believe it doesn’t matter whether you know the person is wrong in his assertions; you listen respectfully and then voice your opinion. That’s the way civilized debates should be conducted. This isn’t a national stage. You don’t have to represent other interest groups, talk as though the world is watching, and tear down your opponent (in this case, me) to make your case. I’m your son, not a politician. When you assert your opinion, not only do you completely shut off your mind from anything that remotely challenge your beliefs (NOT facts), you make me feel as though I’m subhuman, mentally incapable of seeing the big picture. I just happened to hear different opinions and form my own opinions; they’re not right or wrong. Just different.

My Canadian friends often ask me: “How did you turn out so different from your parents?” I honestly don’t know. We come from the same state, education, race, and social class. But I didn’t have their parents. I had them. And as much as my family may be reluctant to admit, something about their attitudes on politics most likely helped shaped mine in a completely different direction.

I should point out both my parents believe I’m just as die hard a Republican as they are. I don’t lie, but when a conservative issue comes up that I happen to agree with (yes, I can agree with things on both sides), I voice that opinion and keep silent on another. I’m honestly worried about how they’ll react if they know just how deeply I empathize with liberal issues; it would be comparable to a Mormon renouncing his faith; you give up your family and friends to stand by your beliefs. I don’t want to do that, but eventually, as my pride keeps getting taken down listening to my dad screaming at Obama during the debate, I may have no choice.

This is what I believe:

I’m not strictly a conservative, or a liberal, or a socialist. Rather, some delightful mix of the three. I think many Americans are, but choose to align themselves with the party to which they see most eye-to-eye. To me, Republicans have ideals, but no compassion. Democrats have ideals and compassion, but no direction. Socialists and libertarians have ideals, compassion, and direction, but no support.

Same-Sex Marriage

I have no problem with same-sex marriage. Obama will probably support his party’s stance, but I happen to believe he personally takes no strong side one way or another (if he did, he would have issued a statement earlier in his term). By the same token, I have no idea what Romney personally thinks of gay marriage, but the Republican party apparently has nothing less than deep-seeded rage for homosexuality; I believe they will not hesitate to use their influence to outlaw gay marriage and make life miserable for gays and lesbians.

I didn’t have any gay friends growing up (as far as I know). My parents didn’t tell me things like “God hates fags” or “homosexuality is a sin”. The only experience I can even think of coming close to a defining moment is being asked about my stance during my Eagle Scout board of review, at which I stated “I don’t believe it’s immoral.” I guess growing up somewhat neutral on the issue just pushed judgment back. I now have one gay friend, but honestly, the issue doesn’t play a big part in my life.

Abortion

I am pro-choice. I believe Obama is firmly pro-choice. I believe Romney and Republicans have been using every opportunity to lie and make it appear as though they’re defending women’s rights when in fact they are completely morally opposed to abortion and everything associated with it. While I have nothing against those who are pro-life, I am absolutely disgusted at those who would use an organization like Planned Parenthood as cannon fodder for holding others to a “moral standard” with which they may not agree. I agree with Biden’s statement during the vice presidential debate:

My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who — who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the — the congressman. I — I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.

The Economy

I actually don’t agree with either side. While I don’t think President Obama should be held responsible for everything that happened in the economy the instant he took office, the fact remains he had the power during his first two years to affect more legislation, and did not (for fear of alienating his base?). And while I don’t think Romney is in any way relatable to the “common man”, he is completely right that government spending is out of control. However, he is reluctant to mention any specifics on how he will reduce the deficit and debt other than simply saying it will happen. Ron Paul is the better choice for the American economy.

Immigration & Education (not lumped together)

Pass. I need more information before forming an opinion.

Foreign Policy

I believe we shouldn’t get involved in overthrowing governments and then complain when the results don’t go our way. I thought we had learned that lesson in Iraq, but apparently not. In this case, I once again side with Ron Paul. Both Obama and Romney would probably continue seizing upon opportunities to spread democracy. I believe what happened to the US ambassador in Libya was a tragedy, but it has been unfairly used by both sides in foreign policy debates, even after the man’s father asked that it not become a political issue.

Healthcare

Having lived in Japan and South Korea, I’ve been a part of socialized healthcare. And while I believe Americans could benefit from such a system, I don’t believe it’s something the federal government was intended to manage. If we truly want socialized healthcare in this country, we need a radical reform of federal regulations (if not the entire government). If nothing comes of that, we need a safety net for lower income families who simply can’t afford healthcare. People do die in this country for lack of healthcare. Tough choices have to be made when funds are low (do I save an arm or a leg?). I honestly don’t have a good solution, or any idea of what one would be. I’m healthy now, but I may not stay that way.

As you have read, I don’t belong to any one party. I agree with conservatives when I agree with what they’re saying. When they say something I know to be false in my opinion, I don’t overlook it and just align myself with the Republican party no matter what, I just listen to hear who’s saying something else. Sometimes it’s Romney. Sometimes Obama. Sometimes Paul. Sometimes all of them, or none of them. I choose what I want to believe. Not a candidate. Not a party.

As an American, I believe this election has de-evolved into voting in the hopes the other side doesn’t get to take power. The lesser of two evils, as it were. Forgive me for saying so to people who are voting this way, but that’s a terrible way to choose the next leader of the free world.

Paralyzed by choice and lack of choice, I feel the only way I can have my interests truly represented is to deny the battle. I welcome you to prove me wrong. Leave your comments below.

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